This Brain Within Me Burns

This week we played This Heart Within Me Burns by Sam Dunnewold from the StorySynth Gallery in which we play a troupe of adventurers who travel to the House of the Empty Goddess seeking to have a curse removed from one of our number. We are Imogene the fire-eating acrobat, Sigurd the unbathed Ratcatcher, Wes the orphaned Smith, Aramis the half-elven Minstrel, Wyn Stormborn the merchant turned Priest, and the curse-afflicted Jessica the Ranger. The curse has ransacked Jessica’s perception, leaving her face blind, but the condition is worsening as she forgets not only faces but common words, and perhaps eventually much more.

We’re traveling through rocky, scrubby hills during the humid months toward the House of the Empty Goddess. Few venture through this desolation, but Jessica fares well for she spent months in the Temple of the Silent One five years ago, so the curse has yet to isolate her. Imogene recalls the child Martina, who lived at the same boardinghouse she did before leaving for adventure, and the promises she made to return. Sigurd secretly blames himself for the curse upon Jessica, believing that when he abandoned his post as ratcatcher out of pique at city officials, the creatures have spread this curse wide. Wes is the first to notice when Jessica fails to recognize everyday objects, calling a spoon a sword, and confides his worries in Wyn. Aramis hopes this curse will teach us all a lesson about the dangers of arrogance and entitlement; we need some humbling, he thinks.

Imogene the acrobat balances a candle on top of a ball on top of her knees. In the background, another image of Imogene touching her foot to her head.

Wyn is at a loss, unable to use his magics to minister to us, he must learn to exercise compassion despite his faith not valuing such softness. When we stop in a small town, Imogene cooks a crème brûlée for a weary traveller but is haunted by his exclamation about the dangers of fire. Sigurd is wracked with guilt over his belief that he caused this plague that has swept up his comrade. Aramis, taking one for the team, entreats Sigurd to take a bath, but the ratcatcher remains unbathed. Wes remembers when he almost lost Wyn when the mountain trolls attacked and worries now about losing Jessica. Unbeknownst to us, Jessica knows whence the curse came, for tis the same calamity that befell her father after an angry client vowed that her father and all his line would suffer before he too began to forget faces, then objects, people, then everything.

The entire group becomes increasingly worried about Jessica, except perhaps Sigurd who is blinded by guilt and regrets ever leaving his work to go adventuring. Imogene has stopped using fire around Jessica, fearing that she might grab a flaming candle thinking it a comb or axe. Aramis regrets never having confessed his love to Jessica before it was too late. One morning, as the group is breaking camp, we discover that Jessica has scattered our items about the site in a crude circle, believing that Sigurd’s shoe and other items are swords, so Wyn walks Jessica into the trees to allow the group to complete the packing without her seeing the mistakes she has made. Wes used to celebrate each of our victories with a commemorative sword, but can’t imagine what to make for this adventure. Jessica feels that our bringing the Queen of Silence to mediate in the Elven-Dwarven War was worth it, despite her returning accursed, because it did some actual good in the world.

As we approach the House of the Empty Goddess, we’re each alone with our thoughts and our fears: that it will all be for naught, that we’ll have to trick the Goddess to help, that the Goddess is a myth and can offer nothing, that Jessica will worsen. In the temple, the priestess places Jessica inside an iron casket and asks us each to make a sacrifice to our Lady. If she deem the sacrifices worthy, then the curse will be lifted. Wes gives up his finest sword, Sigurd sacrifices his honor and agrees to bathe at last, Imogene sacrifices the candle she’s promised Martina, Wyn will retire to a monastery and make sacrifices to his god and to the Goddess daily, and Aramis will sacrifice his quest to master magic. Jessica explains about the family curse and agrees to give up her quest to become legendary if the curse is lifted. As we leave the temple, Jessica seemingly restored, Aramis begins to sing the love song he wrote for Jessica and the credits roll as the song continues to play.